Published: Nov. 16, 2020 By

This year, an interdisciplinary team of Senior Design students is the first at CU Boulder to enter the Collegiate Wind Competition as a learn-along team. They are working hard to secure a spot for CU Boulder in the competition next year and are making impressive strides in wind energy innovation and education. The team includes Abdoul Bah, Ioana Dumitru, David Imola, Austin Kim, Charlie McClung, James Rizkallah, Xander Sugarman and Emily Zuetell. Read about their experience below. 

cwc wind turbine
A wind turbine designed by CU Boulder's first Collegiate Wind Competition Senior Design team. 

Share about your Senior Design project. What problem does your project solve?

Our Senior Design project aims to design, develop and inspire. The project is split into three different competitions that all involve the wind industry:

  1. The first part is designing a wind turbine prototype that will accomplish different tasks. Each task tests a different characteristic of a wind turbine such as cut-in wind speed, power curve performance, control of rated power and rotor speed, safety and durability. The goal of this project is to understand the mechanical and electrical systems that go into designing a wind turbine.
  2. The second part is developing a 100-megawatt wind farm in the western region of South Dakota. This competition aims to utilize modeling programs and conduct extensive research to determine a site with optimal wind resources and favorable financial analysis. 
  3. The final part is community outreach to spark community interest in wind energy. This includes partnering with KidWind, a company that develops curriculums and lessons about renewable energy to teach k-12 students about the potential wind energy can provide. The community outreach competition also involves networking with local wind energy representatives and establishing a presence on local media. 

What is the Collegiate Wind Competition? 

The United States Department of Energy (DOE) anticipates about 20 to 30% of U.S. energy supply will be sourced from wind energy in the next 10 to 15 years, a considerable increase from today’s 7 to 9%. The DOE and National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) created the competition in 2014 to help fill in those roles once the push for wind energy initiates. The competition aims to attract students of various disciplines to be invested in wind energy and be inspired to contribute innovative solutions. 

Why was this project of interest to you?

Our team consists of mechanical and electrical engineers with various skillsets and emphases. The team divided into specific team roles and a subteam based on previous experience and personal goals. These personal goals range from sharpening technical skills of mechanical and electrical subsystems to improving planning and communication skills. However, we all share a passion for mitigating climate change and aim for a future that pushes for renewable energy.

What have you and your team accomplished that you are proud of?

We are proud that we are on time, if not ahead of schedule despite the circumstances. Our team is considered to be a small team since we consist of eight team members. We have a solid start in all three parts of the competition and feel very confident about our progress. We were able to quickly establish a great team dynamic and a strong work ethic which allowed us to have a detailed preliminary design for the turbine, quality candidates to site our wind farm and a plan for community outreach with KidWind. Despite this being CU Boulder's first year in the Collegiate Wind Competition, our team has been able to overcome obstacles despite not having the previous experience other teams had. Our goal is to spread the message of resilience to inspire the community that collaboration and innovation is still possible during this new online world.

We are also proud of our determination to represent CU Boulder. This year, we are a learn-along team which means our team is not officially competing in the competition, but we are still provided with the same resources and expectations as competing teams. Our team is using this freedom to really challenge ourselves and pave the way for CU Boulder to be a recognized competing team in the near future. We are challenging ourselves to create a more robust electrical system and exceeding the number of turbine testing tasks that a first-year team is expected to complete. We are proud that our team is seeing being a learn-along team as an advantage to create “outside of the box” designs instead of a missed opportunity.

What have you learned from this project so far?

Each team member started this project with different levels of experience in wind energy. However, we all gained a greater understanding of necessary technical and soft skills that can be directly transferable to industry. NREL provided each team with extensive resources regarding modeling programs, networking opportunities and communication techniques. We were expected to use Continuum and System Advisory Model (SAM) to extract wind resource data and financial models for certain site locations. NREL has also provided documentation for regulations and community outreach techniques. The Collegiate Wind Competition encourages peer-to-peer learning and teaching, not only with team members but with other competing teams. Although every team is competing against each other, there was room for inter-team collaboration. As a matter of fact, part of the competition requirements is to research what teams have done in the past and document how previous reports affected our current design. This taught our team how to balance between innovation and uniqueness with feasible and operational. We were able to sharpen our creativity and critical thinking skills which are skills that are difficult to obtain from a classroom.

What are you most excited to share with others about this project?

We are excited to share with students and faculty members that there is now a more intimate way to get involved with renewable energy. This competition welcomes those interested in wind energy despite the level of previous knowledge. Our team is very excited to share our progress in our wind energy journey. It is a big step for CU Boulder to enter this competition since it opens up an opportunity for students to gain knowledge, experience and resources within the renewable energy industry. Our team is very open to mentors invested in the project and students interested in shadowing our progress.